Skip to main content

Biblical story of Jesus possibly explained by excavations in his hometown of Nazareth

Archaeologists examined these rock-cut features under the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.
Archaeologists examined these rock-cut features under the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.
(Image: © Ken Dark)

The town of Nazareth in modern-day Israel is steeped in mystique, as it is thought to be the place where Jesus was raised. And now, a new study has uncovered more of its secrets, finding that the people of Nazareth rejected Roman culture and even revolted against the Roman Empire around A.D. 70. 

The researcher of the study also found that Nazareth was likely larger than thought during the time of Jesus. The findings might help to explain some stories of Jesus described in the bible. 

Nazareth's opposition to Roman cultural practices and objects would have stood in stark contrast to its neighbor, a city called Sepphoris, which embraced Roman culture, including imported objects. "Cultural separation may have created what was, in effect, an invisible barrier between Nazareth and Sepphoris," wrote study author Ken Dark, director of the Nazareth Archaeological Project, in his recently published book "Roman-Period and Byzantine Nazareth and Its Hinterland" (Routledge, 2020).

Related: See Images of the 'Jesus' House and Nazareth Artifacts

Dark also found that people in Nazareth may have resisted the Romans during a revolt around A.D. 70, digging refuge caves to protect themselves from Roman soldiers. This contrasts with Sepphoris where coins minted at the time of the revolt say that it was a "city of peace" where inhabitants did not revolt. The study also found that people within or near Sepphoris were willing to use imported Roman pottery styles while people within or near Nazareth stuck to local styles and were particularly fond of vessels made of limestone, a material considered pure under Jewish religious laws of the time. 

Another contrast, Dark noted, is that farmers near Sepphoris used human waste as manure despite this practice being forbidden under some interpretations of ancient Jewish religious law; meanwhile, farmers near Nazareth avoided this practice. 

People buried in Nazareth also seem to have preferred what archaeologists call "kokhim" tombs, which are cut into rock and have an entrance closed off with a rolling stone — a type of tomb that is similar to the one where Jesus was buried in the New Testament. This tomb design is seen in other parts of Israel and those buried in the tombs may "have wanted to express a strongly Jewish identity," Dark wrote in his book. 

Dark has been conducting surveys and excavations in Nazareth for many years and, in preparing his study, also reviewed previous archaeological work at Nazareth by other archaeologists. 

Here, a valley between Nazareth and Sephoris. Unlike ancient Nazareth, Sepphoris embraced Roman culture and was a "city of peace" during a Roman revolt in A.D. 70.

Here, a valley between Nazareth and Sepphoris. Unlike ancient Nazareth, Sepphoris embraced Roman culture and was a "city of peace" during a Roman revolt in A.D. 70. (Image credit: Ken Dark)

Understanding Jesus

Dark emphasized that his study is not meant to shed light on the bible, but the results may help to explain some stories of Jesus that are told in the Bible. 

Related: The Holy Land: 7 Amazing Archaeological Finds

For instance, biblical stories say that, despite growing up in Nazareth, Jesus was poorly received when he visited his hometown during his ministry. Even some of his own family members were not happy with him. According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus said that "a prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home" (Mark 6:4). 

The archaeology of Nazareth, which shows that people in the area strongly rejected Roman objects, values and practices regarded as impure, may have contrasted with some of Jesus' teachings, Dark told Live Science. "The all-encompassing message of salvation being presented by Jesus might also have been controversial to local people who may have sought to create a cultural barrier between themselves and the Romans." 

Also "comparing the teachings of Jesus about religious purity with what seems from archaeological evidence to have been the local cultural attitudes of people in Nazareth, suggests that local people in Nazareth would also have found those teachings in contrast with their own perceptions of what was pure and impure," Dark said. 

In the biblical stories, Jesus expresses a lenient view of ritual purity, at least in regard for food, saying that "there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile" (Mark 7:14). This seems to contrast with Dark's and others' archaeological findings at Nazareth, which suggest that people in the town practiced a strict interpretation of purity. 

The study shows that Nazareth in Jesus' time rejected Roman culture and followed a strict interpretation of Jewish religious law.

The study shows that Nazareth in Jesus' time rejected Roman culture and followed a strict interpretation of Jewish religious law.  (Image credit: Ken Dark)

A bigger Nazareth?

Nazareth may have been bigger than originally believed, based on the structures that have been discovered there. "Excavated evidence from work by numerous archaeologists over more than a century demonstrates the existence of domestic structures, storage facilities and hiding places in central Nazareth dating from the Roman period," Dark wrote in his book. 

Related: Proof of Jesus Christ? 7 Pieces of Evidence Debated

"There is evidence of agriculture, quarrying and rock-cut tombs," Dark wrote. In the past, some scholars thought Nazareth was a very small settlement in Jesus' time, possibly no bigger than a hamlet. The archaeological remains analyzed by Dark suggest that, while Nazareth was not as large as Sepphoris, it was larger than originally believed. 

Dark's research in Nazareth is ongoing and a book set to be published later this year will present detailed results from a specific site in Nazareth known as the "Sisters of Nazareth" convent. 

Originally published on Live Science. 

OFFER: Save 45% on 'How It Works' 'All About Space' and 'All About History'!

For a limited time, you can take out a digital subscription to any of our best-selling science magazines for just $2.38 per month, or 45% off the standard price for the first three months.View Deal

  • Urquiola
    Interesting, the use of human manure as fertilizer was endorsed, besides the inhabitants in Sepphoris (today a clothes' trade mark: 'Sephora', they may love the Roman rule), by Vlad Lenin, in his book against Russian followers of Ernst Mach, 'Machists': 'Materialism and empirio-criticism', containig also many other scientific aberrations.
    Young Red Guards used human manure this harmful way in the Mao's 'Cultural Revolution' days.
    Human manure should never be used as fertilizer, because of the extremely high risk of transmitting many diseases.
    All krazee, now and then! Blessings +
    Reply
  • GarryO
    Live Science undermines itself with articles such as these. It needs to distance itself from religious proselytising. The Bible was written by paid scribes hundreds of years after Jesus was supposed to have lived to fuel a cult. Romans were meticulous record keepers and never mentioned someone called Jesus, so he certainly wasn't as famous and people in the U.S. make out today with countless of English-language 'interpretations' they call Bibles which are being quoted in this article.
    Reply
  • Urquiola
    GarryO said:
    Live Science undermines itself with articles such as these. It needs to distance itself from religious proselytising. The Bible was written by paid scribes hundreds of years after Jesus was supposed to have lived to fuel a cult. Romans were meticulous record keepers and never mentioned someone called Jesus, so he certainly wasn't as famous and people in the U.S. make out today with countless of English-language 'interpretations' they call Bibles which are being quoted in this article.
    Wrong! The 'Life of 12 Caesars', by Suetonio, dead AD 126, cites a police authority in the times of Tiberio chased jews out of Rome, 'because they started frequent quarrels because of a certain Cresto', Cresto is a latinized version of the Greek title 'Christus', meaning 'Anointed', in hebrew 'Messiah', but in the days of that Tiberio, Romans did not distinguish between jews and Christians.
    What was made centuries after is the Bible version compiled by Ben-Asher, a converse to jewish faith, who worked on this in order that all jews in Diaspora had the same sacred texts. There are translations of Gospel to languages other than Greek and Latin, perhaps as early as 3d century AD. For sure texts differ; even today, you can hear in a Holy Mass the same Gospel by same Evangelist, same text, and what is read differs to such degree that you can even have contradictory interpretations.
    An easy example is an OT text where a lover promises his beloved woman offering her porpoises' furs: porpoises, dolphins, have never been used in furriery, while in old times, there were seals in the Mediterranean, seals have a furrery use.
    If you don't want to adhere to the Christ revelation, it's your decision, consequences are yours, but it has little sense supporting this in bibliography issues, these realms have little or no overlap. Blessings +
    Reply
  • GarryO
    There were a lot of cults at the time in Rome and the idea your Cresto was Jesus is at best a stab in the dark. Again, Live Science should be about science, not superstition.
    Reply
  • Urquiola
    GarryO said:
    There were a lot of cults at the time in Rome and the idea your Cresto was Jesus is at best a stab in the dark. Again, Live Science should be about science, not superstition.
    Hardly this kind of observation form a Roman policeman could come from nobody but about Jesus, your reaction is evidence that jews and associates act in a fíercy, visceral way confronted with the name Jesus, and not so much, or nearly nothing, in front of other names.
    It's not my business.
    In the lack of evidence pointing to another religious man, the most probable explanation for the comment in Suetonio is as stated: it was about Jesus, but there is also the jew-roman historian Flavio Josefo citing Jesus.
    Sanhedrin line of propaganda is propaganda; whatever the intensity of your efforts, you won't change reality. Any personal interest in despising Jesus? For sure, He won't harm you, if you don't have a better alternative to offer, no one has, this type of comments are a bit arrogant and aggressive to those who endorse the Faith in free choice, and can even be considered mobbing, an attempt to subdue those who think different to you. Style, evidence, matters. Blessings +
    Reply
  • likota39
    Live Science should be it, scientific. Not for biblical theories.
    – Josephus Flavius did visit Jaffa village 1.5 km from today's Nazareth, but did not mention Nazareth at all.
    – All imporant archaeological discoveries in Nazareth are not from 30 A.D., but after 70's A.D.
    Etc, etc...
    Reply
  • Urquiola
    You present your postulates with no more evidence that 'I said this'. Let's come back to your starting barefaced lie: the non-historicity of Jesus. You own comments discredit the factoid, if the type of evidence you want is filmed activity, a travle back in time, if you continue adhering to hexagramme, the symbol for Saturn, equal to Chronos, equal to Moloch, 'master of time' for Greeks and Rome, perhaps you'll get from it the technology for time travel. As now, you attack, but provide no support. End of thread. Blessings +
    Reply
  • GarryO
    Urquiola said:
    Hardly this kind of observation form a Roman policeman could come from nobody but about Jesus, your reaction is evidence that jews and associates act in a fíercy, visceral way confronted with the name Jesus, and not so much, or nearly nothing, in front of other names.
    It's not my business.
    In the lack of evidence pointing to another religious man, the most probable explanation for the comment in Suetonio is as stated: it was about Jesus, but there is also the jew-roman historian Flavio Josefo citing Jesus.
    Sanhedrin line of propaganda is propaganda; whatever the intensity of your efforts, you won't change reality. Any personal interest in despising Jesus? For sure, He won't harm you, if you don't have a better alternative to offer, no one has, this type of comments are a bit arrogant and aggressive to those who endorse the Faith in free choice, and can even be considered mobbing, an attempt to subdue those who think different to you. Style, evidence, matters. Blessings +
    Reply
  • GarryO
    Urquiola said:
    Hardly this kind of observation form a Roman policeman could come from nobody but about Jesus, your reaction is evidence that jews and associates act in a fíercy, visceral way confronted with the name Jesus, and not so much, or nearly nothing, in front of other names.
    It's not my business.
    In the lack of evidence pointing to another religious man, the most probable explanation for the comment in Suetonio is as stated: it was about Jesus, but there is also the jew-roman historian Flavio Josefo citing Jesus.
    Sanhedrin line of propaganda is propaganda; whatever the intensity of your efforts, you won't change reality. Any personal interest in despising Jesus? For sure, He won't harm you, if you don't have a better alternative to offer, no one has, this type of comments are a bit arrogant and aggressive to those who endorse the Faith in free choice, and can even be considered mobbing, an attempt to subdue those who think different to you. Style, evidence, matters. Blessings +
    . I am not Jewish, but you demonstrate your anti-semitism amply. This is the problem with religionists who are blind to science and evidence in defence of their faith and superstition.
    Reply
  • Goldshadow
    Urquiola said:
    Interesting, the use of human manure as fertilizer was endorsed, besides the inhabitants in Sepphoris (today a clothes' trade mark: 'Sephora', they may love the Roman rule), by Vlad Lenin, in his book against Russian followers of Ernst Mach, 'Machists': 'Materialism and empirio-criticism', containig also many other scientific aberrations.
    Young Red Guards used human manure this harmful way in the Mao's 'Cultural Revolution' days.
    Human manure should never be used as fertilizer, because of the extremely high risk of transmitting many diseases.
    All krazee, now and then! Blessings +
    I can remember my brother-in-law, who was in the Navy in the 1950's, speaking of Japan where he said they used human waste as fertilizer. He said they collected it in what he called a 'honey pot' & then spread it in their gardens. Japanese are known to be wonderful gardeners & can really make things grow beautifully. Makes one wonder if it could be safely used somehow. ....... On 2nd thought, ....... no, don't think so.
    Reply